"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Being Distinctive

What are artists really seeking if it isn’t a way to better marry meaningful work to enjoyable work? Far too often, we pursue work that doesn’t have any personal significance. It isn’t distinctive in any way. Satisfying work begins with being able to start from meaning to create a work that seamlessly interprets your ideas OR it is work driven by a set of processes you love. In this case meaning is eventually unearthed as the work unfolds. Either way is satisfying. Any artist can start from either place, based on the goal at hand.

It takes a lot to be distinctive. In a recent class we tossed out the word unique because it’s cliche’d in this culture. But you could try it on for size by asking - what is unique about your particular take on a subject or process. Loads of people know how to do shibori. Loads of people know how to put dye on a screen and let it dry out so that it can be reactivated and printed later. Lots of people are thrilled by bubble wrap as a part of this printing. But technique has limitations. Most of it looks the same. If I line up fifteen samples of breakdown printing in a row, will I be able to tell who made what? Highly unlikely. The technique itself isn’t that distinctive.

And then there are artists who got there first. Nancy Crow appropriated and perfected improvisational piecing. Jan Myers Newberry has taken the use of shibori in quilts to a masterful level. Trying to outdo either of these masters is not for the faint hearted. I don’t think it can be done. So the point is - what are you going to do with a technique to make it distinctively your own?

There’s a lot of bad art in the world. There are bad paintings and bad art quilts. We don’t want to lose track of the basic reality Don Henley tapped when he wrote “You never see a hearse with a luggage rack.” My bottom line is the importance - the value - of the process. What you learn from engaging with materials. How making defines, refines and reshapes the core of your soul.

You may never achieve anything that is as famous or perfect as a Nancy Crow quilt. We’re not all visionaries. But you have a right to create distinctive work and this is a worthy goal. You’ll be more likely to succeed if you align your preferences, skill sets, and goals with what you care about. Because it is what you care about that makes work distinctive.

And it’s not just about content. You may care deeply about color or pattern or line. Passion is not predictable. It’s personal.


  1. I agree with you that technique has its limits, which is why if the only thing you have is technique, you're probably going to have a hard way to go as an artist. While a few artists like Nancy Crow and Jan Myers Newbury may have a patent on a technique, and others may want to think they're "about color" or some such, most people achieve their own distinctive voice through content. That's why I think it's important that art be ABOUT something.

  2. Such a wonderful read. Thanks, I needed to hear that.

  3. You have discussed something that I have been contemplating of late! Excellent comments

  4. How often I find our thoughts are in sync. I've been having "deep thoughts" about my work and meaning the past few days. More food for thought. Thanks!

  5. I now have a new quote in my collection of " Jane said", "PASSION IS NOT PREDICTABLE. IT'S PERSONAL." Well done, Jane. What a great comment.


  6. I've been thinking along similar lines lately, and you said it so much better than I thought it. Thank you for this.

  7. There are 2 things I've discovered about myself...one is that I'm driven by the process as a way of having a dialogue with my physical body to see how far I can push it, to measure my strength, energy, overall sense of wellness. Two, that the making is and exploration of discovery and meaning...for example, what is the relationship or how can I define the relationship between poetry and quilts, etc. Creating work just leads to creating more work because I'm always reaching for answers that are "seamless" in my mind. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  8. "Because it is what you care about that makes work distinctive."

    so very true!

  9. Your comments always inspire me in a deeply personal way!
    Keep reflecting and writing:)

  10. I think I've solved my blogging problem: here is my first comment!
    When I try to make the work meaningful to me I focus on the imagery. The process part is about having the materials participate so that the outcome is also a reflection of their essential nature.
    I love this blog neighborhood: always thought provoking

  11. Thank you so much. Very much needed to read that today.